Editor’s note: The Kansas Press Association, in cooperation with the Great Bend Tribune, is collecting photos of Vietnam soldiers who died in service for the Education Center at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. There are 265 photos of Kansas soldiers needed. The Tribune has located two photos, Kent Amerine and Edward Saenz.
Kent Amerine was an All-American boy. The oldest of five children, he was responsible, good-hearted, well-liked during his growing up years in Great Bend.
When his country called during the Vietnam War, Amerine answered. And at age 23, on Aug. 2, 1966, he paid the ultimate price, leaving an eight-month-old son, David, and a young wife, Kathleen, who was pregnant with his second son.
“He served his country,” said Kathleen Amerine Brenner. “He loved his country. He thought it was to protect us over here.”
In Great Bend after death notification in 1966, flags were flown at half-mast in honor of Kent, the oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Loren Amerine. Kent was the first soldier from Great Bend that was killed in Vietnam.
A 1961 graduate of Great Bend High School, he was active in music and football. He was a member of the First Methodist Church, was an Eagle Scout and was an excellent swimmer.
Amerine was a medic, on his last mission before he was to be reassigned to teach swimming lessons to troops. Eighteen men out of the 26 in the platoon died that fateful day between Pleiku and the LZ Oasis. Eight men survived.
He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Military Merit Medal and the Gallantry Cross with Palm from the Republic of Vietnam.
He received the Bronze Star for bravery in combat because, “he exposed himself to intense fire in an attempt to reach several wounded during the time he was killed,” according to the Dec. 23, 1966 Hays Daily News.
Kathleen knew, “when the soldiers came” the news was not good. She was informed that her husband was missing. “They asked me if there was anything they could do for me, and I told them, “find him.””
A week later her parents and soldiers walked up. “I knew right away,” Kathleen said.
Kent’s body was not found for a week after his passing, and the family retained hope for a lengthy period that the military had made a mistake.
The soldier was also survived by siblings Marvin, Glenn, Clyde and sister Elaine Mull, who died earlier this year in a plane crash in Tennessee.
“Kent was everybody’s hero,” said his brother Glenn. “He wanted to go. He wanted to serve his country. He felt it was the right thing to do.
“Our family was devastated,” Glenn said. “He was the one person the family couldn’t do without.”
Later, military comrades visited the family to talk about Kent’s service. “He was the one person (the soldiers) depended on,” Glenn said. “He sacrificed himself for everyone.”
The extended family is close and pulled together, including his wife who stayed strong for her boys.“He gave me two beautiful sons,” said Kathleen.
“We had the pleasure of watching (his boys) grow up,” said Glenn. “David is exactly like his dad.”
“He cared about people,” said Kathleen. “He was kind and caring. He was very much like his son David. He would have given the shirt off of his back.”
Found: Kent L. Amerine: 2-Aug-66; 4-Apr-43, Great Bend
Found: Edward L. Saenz: 2-Oct-68; 8-Jan-48, Great Bend
Conrad F. Straub: 27-Feb-67; 30-Dec-46, Claflin
Robert E. Riedel: 31-Aug-65 21-Jan-45, Hoisington
John S. Simmons: 1-Mar-68; 6-May-45, Hoisington